Before I dove headfirst into a ton of research on codes and standards (C&S) here at E Source, I didn’t realize how eerily similar claiming savings from C&S is to running a political campaign. Here’s why I now think so.
In the last year, I’ve gone from one conference to the next in which speakers informed me that attribution challenges were the biggest barrier for utilities seeking to claim energy savings from buildings built to new codes and appliances sold with higher efficiency standards. In other words, regulators and evaluators are hung up on the ever-elusive process of figuring out how much credit to give a utility for getting a new code or standard adopted.
I thought, “Rightly so! Quantifying the share of credit to give a utility (or any organization for that matter) for its influence on a new code or standard is akin to calculating how much credit to give the U.S. president for the state of the economy. It can’t be done, right?”
Wrong. Just like in campaign season when the president takes credit for a healthy economy, some states are allowing utilities to take credit for energy savings from C&S. In a recent E Source report, Cracking the Code: The Path to Claiming Savings from Building Codes, I describe how California and Arizona attribute a share of energy savings from C&S. What I learned from their stories is that a major challenge for utilities looking to claim savings from C&S has less to do with attribution and much more to do with politics, at least initially. This is because, before even talking about how to quantify savings, utilities have to convince regulators, stakeholders, and the general public that their role is essential to realizing the full savings potential from C&S. Other utilities are on this path, too, including some in Ohio, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
And then there’s the Pacific Northwest, where utilities can claim full savings from C&S. Yes, that’s right. There’s no attribution process—they get full credit! I suspect that the Northwest concluded that the overall benefit of involving utilities in C&S work to make energy efficiency a reliable resource was ultimately more important than grappling with complicated and expensive attribution measurements. This fits with the analogy, too, because at the end of the day, no one cares how much credit the president takes for the state of the economy, as long as the job’s getting done.
I’m not saying that attribution issues are unimportant or that the debate of whether and how to attribute code savings should be put aside. My point is that before diving into the attribution debate, utilities need to demonstrate to regulators, stakeholders, and the public that C&S represents a big piece of the efficiency pie and that utilities are better poised to realize their full savings potential in the most cost-effective manner than any other entity around.
My advice to utilities that want to claim savings from C&S: hire a campaign manager first and an evaluator second.